ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) released a list of churches people with COVID-19 visited while infected. Several local pastors said they were never notified any of their parishioners tested positive. One said he’s still waiting to hear from the ADH.
Carl Staten is the pastor of Little Flock Primitive Baptist Church in Rogers, and he said the tight-knit church community is typical of many Southern places of worship: word travels quickly.
“I make it my business to know everybody in this church and everybody that comes here,” Staten said.
Alongside Jesus Christ and Sunday lunch, COVID-19’s been the topic of discussion for church members as the outbreak continues to impact Northwest Arkansas more than the rest of the state, Staten said, and he knew of only two members who’d gotten tested, including himself.
“There’s been absolutely [no positive case],” Staten said. “So, I have no idea where this originated.”
Little Flock Primitive was included on a not-so-enviable list of Arkansas churches released by the ADH last week. Twelve Northwest Arkansas churches were identified by people who’d tested positive for COVID-19 as places they visited while infected.
“We work to identify contacts at the church, or we also work to see where they might have gotten it themselves,” said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the ADH’s state epidemiologist.
In the governor’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Nate Smith said the list was released after it was requested by news outlets. He never intended to make the list public, he said, but decided it was public information after discussing it with lawyers.
“We went ahead and gave a list with an explanation that these are are churches where people reported having been,” Smith, the ADH secretary, said. “It doesn’t mean that there was transmission occurring there.”
Contact tracers are tasked with reaching out to listed churches during their post-interview process, but the names were made public before the ADH made that initial contact, Dillaha said.
Dillaha said contact tracers worked hard reaching out to listed churches. ☎️— Andrew Epperson (@eppersports) June 30, 2020
Today, she couldn’t say definitively whether each church had heard from the ADH. That appears to be Little Flock’s dilemma.
More tonight at 9 & 10 on @KNWAFOX24! ⤵️ (4/4) #NWANews pic.twitter.com/SQzVAVGxQa
“The staff that had been working with churches weren’t where they wanted to be in terms of contacting the churches when the list was released,” Dillaha said.
Staten said he began reaching out to the ADH for answers soon after learning Little Flock Primitive was on the list. He said attempts to determine the circumstances behind the church’s inclusion have been unsuccessful thus far. He ultimately hopes the listing was a mistake.
Regular congregants have fearfully asked Staten for answers, he said, and potential visitors could stay away after seeing Little Flock Primitive listed.
“Certainly, if anybody was thinking about visiting here and they see your name on this list, well they’re not coming,” Staten said. “So, that kind of shoots evangelism in the head.”
Alternatively, if the ADH confirms the details of an infected person leaving COVID-19 remnants in the church, Staten said he wants that information so he can keep other churchgoers safe.
“We’re just trying to be accountable and safe in this, but that’s kinda hard to do when you don’t know where it’s coming from,” Staten said.